[Exclusive Interview] Liann Kaye Director of Short Film "Seoul Switch" Starring Kevin Woo

Liann Kaye is a rising star in the film industry, known for her compelling storytelling as an AAPI writer and director. Her award-winning mini-series, "The Blessing," which captured the title of "Best Comedy" at the New York Short Film Festival and received support from the NYC Women’s Fund, is now available on YouTube. Kaye's first feature film, "Electable," was selected for both the Athena Lab and The Blacklist x WIF Feature Film Residency, where she received mentorship from industry luminaries Sofia Alvarez ("To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before") and Kiwi Smith ("10 Things I Hate About You," "Legally Blonde").

Kaye wrote and directed "Seoul Switch," a proof-of-concept short poised to be expanded into a feature-length movie. The film, starring Korean American K-pop idol Kevin Woo, won Best Narrative Short at the DisOrient Film Festival in March and will be screening at Short Shorts Asia and Bentonville this summer. In this interview, we dive into Kaye's creative journey, her inspiration for "Seoul Switch," and behind the camera moments.  

KW: You have in just like a few years, built a prolific career in screenwriting and directing. Can you just tell me a little bit about how you got started in directing?

I've been interested in cameras and video editing ever since high school. My mom had a Sony camcorder where I would shoot on VHS tapes, little skits with my friends, and music videos with my sister. When I got to high school I ran for student government and I ended up doing a lot of the commercials, for the events in high school, such as prom, pet assemblies, and homecoming and I'd make little advertisements that would run on the school announcements.

I felt like I couldn't be the President because I was the only Asian girl in school and a lot of the time a lot of the women, especially the women of color, would work really hard in student government and some white popular guy would just run and then beat them. So that was a very formative part of my story where I felt like I was making a lot of content to support people who didn't look like me. When I started directing, later in life, and telling stories about my own life, I decided that I wanted to write and direct about Asian American protagonists and people that aren't often on the big screen, especially in America, because we're minorities.

So then after high school, I went to college and I got my degree in Screen Arts. My sister, who goes by the moniker Kaye, is an artist and I started doing all of her music videos in college, kind of as a hobby at first, because I just didn't really believe that I could have a future in filmmaking. My parents are both immigrants, and we very much were told we needed to get a stable job with a salary and a 401K. I really took that to heart, especially because my sister wanted to become a rock star. For 15 years I worked in Corporate America and made videos for the Blue Man Group, the Girl Scouts, and Global Citizen. After that, I was able to step away and start my own company and now I am writing screenplays more in the narrative space and trying to tell stories about my life and my people.

KW: What inspires you to start working on "Seoul Switch"? Can you tell me a bit about the concept of that film short film?

So during the pandemic, when I started getting into K-pop, at first it was just. Fun for me to see confident, sexy Asian Americans performing at a level that I never got to see in America. Because in America, most of our pop stars are white or even black, and there's very few Asian musicians or entertainers, and it's getting better. But it was still pretty shocking for me to see groups like BTS, BLACKPINK, or NCT. I became a genuine fan at first, and then I became interested in the idols who were born in America, Europe, or Australia and who grew up just like me as a minority. Not feeling like the beauty standard. Not feeling attractive because we didn't have white features and then these idols would go over to Korea and suddenly be the beauty standard and people would praise their Asian features and their faces. That was the seed of the idea of this and would make a great switch trope.

I think a lot of Asian Americans asked themselves this, "What would have happened if I grew up in my mother country, Would my confidence be better? Would I be the most attractive person in my community?" As opposed to feeling like I don't fit in." From there, I thought, what if you took a Korean American boy who grew up in Ohio and was a nerd? Nobody thought he was sexy, and then he goes to Korea and meets a K-pop idol who looks exactly like him and they decide to switch livesI saw Kevin in the "K-pop Broadway" I immediately knew that he was a fantastic actor from seeing him in the play -- then I found out that this was his story. He is a Korean American boy who grew up in California.

When I met Kevin he was like, "I don't know how you wrote this with my life story. I didn't feel attractive when I was growing up, and so when I was 15, I begged my mom to send me to Korea so I could go and be a pop star." As soon as he got to, goal! Everything that he felt insecure about as far as his features, being more slender, being pale, having no facial hair, being maybe a little bit more pretty, was praised. I thought it was just such a fascinating idea that there have been a lot of Switch movies such as the "Lizzie McGuire Movie", "The Parent Trap," and "The Princess Switch," but none of them really tackle race. K-pop is popular right now, I wanted to explore being an Asian American digging into those questions, but in a fun, comical, and spectacular way.


KW: What other qualities do you think that Kevin brought to the role for "Seoul Switch"?

Oh my goodness. I really feel so blessed to have met him. Because, you know, I wrote the script before, even dreaming that I could have a real K-Pop idol as the star. I knew that I wanted to do something like "The Parent Trap" and I had one Korean American guy play both roles but, I thought maybe I would need to get an unknown actor that is bilingual. And even if he is bilingual, a lot of Americans, when they speak Korean, their accent isn't perfect. They have a they have an American accent when they speak. Kevin is perfect in both languages. On top of that, he would need to be a good actor, but he would also need to be fantastic at dancing, singing, and modeling. The K-pop idol's character has this overconfidence. He knows how to serve to the camera, he knows how to pose, he knows how to look sexy, which is what a lot of Asian Americans when they grow up here, don't know how to do.

The fact that Kevin was available was another thing because I made a list of all of the Korean American K-pop idols that I could think of, there were maybe five, and then and then I would include some Canadians too -- So I was thinking about Johnny from NCT, Mark from NCT, Mark Taun. Like I even put Jackson in there even though he's from Hong Kong, but his English is perfect. But it wouldn't make sense because he's, you know, more Chinese. You know, the one who has the qualities I need, bilingual, great dancer, great singer, and are working. They're in groups currently right now. Way too busy. So to be able to catch Kevin at the end of his UKISS career, going into solo music and beginning acting -- I really feel like it was destined and he feels that way too. He was telling me I can't believe the script came into my life and it's such a blessing to be able to explore both characters.

He does have to project confidence as a performer and has been able to foster that self-confidence from being a pop star in Korea, but the DJ character, the American character, he said. "I know how that feels too. I know what it feels like to be overlooked and ignored, and when I play him, I feel this character," Yes, he checked all of the boxes of what I needed for an actor to play both roles and then on top of that he ended up giving me so much material. As for his specific experience being an American K-pop idol and in the short film.

There's certainly some of that, but I have the feature film written too and that is ready to go out to studios so that we can make it a feature film and there's so much that he's given me. He's been so vulnerable and honest and let me take his experiences. Talking about K-pop from the American perspective, there are toxic sides to the industry and there is idle mistreatment and these kids start working and training when they're 12. That can do something to you psychologically. So I'm really grateful Kevin's eager to be open about that as well and talk about how can we make the industry that brings so much joy to people better for the performers that are doing it.

KW: How did you approach the visual style and cinematography for "Seoul Switch"?

Visually, it was crucial to have two Kevins in the frame for many shots to ensure it looked realistic, with one actor interacting with himself. We would start by filming Kevin as the first character. For instance, if he was playing the Korean American boy, he would fully embody that character through his posture, speech, and eye contact, often looking down at the floor. Another actor would read the other character's lines into a microphone, and Kevin would wear an earpiece to get the timing right and engage emotionally.

After filming the first character, we would cut, send Kevin to change into the K-pop idol's outfit, and play back his previous performance into his ear. Kevin would then act as the second character, interacting with his earlier performance. It was quite impressive. I actually borrowed this method from Nancy Meyers, who used it in "The Parent Trap." She had an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary that I studied for this project.

We also drew visual inspiration from K-pop music videos, known for their vibrant colors and dynamic camera movements. In K-pop, men often embrace high fashion, makeup, and an elevated polish, which I wanted to incorporate into the film. In America, there is a stereotype of feminized Asian men as not being sexy. However, K-pop has embraced a fluidity between the masculine and feminine, with men wearing high-fashion outfits, taking care of their skin, and being beautiful without losing their appeal. This made me reflect on how subjective beauty standards are, depending on where you live in the world.

I should add that we had Kevin change in and out of about 15 different outfits. You know there are the main outfits when it's just DJ and Moon meeting for the first time, but then we go into this fashion montage which you know, goes back to the movies of the early 2000s where a nerdy character is getting a makeover, and usually it's a woman. But this time we said we want to make over this nerdy, insecure boy and we're gonna give him a fashion glow up and the song that we wrote for the film is called "Glow up" and we had a stylist that has done photo shoots for Vogue and Cosmo. She gave us some amazing outfits and we made a Pinterest for of our favorite K-Pop looks from all of our favorite idols.  Kevin was just down to wear anything we put him in, whether it was wearing a pink feather boa or a crop top. He was so comfortable because he was like, this is what I did when I was back in the day.

KW: Are there any scenes in particular that you felt were pretty difficult but rewarding to shoot?

One way that this movie is elevated from other Switch movies, is that in shooting two Kevins at the same time -- the easy way to do that is to just put the camera on a tripod and cut the frame in half. But we wanted to have the camera move. While we had two Kevins in the frame at the same time we needed to have this motion-controlled robotic rig so that when we shot Kevin the first time, we would have a human operates the camera and shoot Kevin's lines and then when Kevin went and changed and came back, that movement that we originally shot was recorded in that robotic rig, so that it did the exact same thing at the exact same time. And then we could marry those frames together and then have two of him. But it was complicated and It took a lot of rehearsal from Kevin, the camera operator, the motion control operator and everybody just put all hands on deck to make it happen. From the costume person, the makeup person, all of us, I felt like we all got closer after we made this film because it was a truly choreographed dance in front of the camera and behind the camera.

KW: What do you what are some contemporary issues between American culture and Korean culture, you think are reflected in the film?

As we've spoken about masculinity and what it means to be a man, what it means to be an attractive man? I think that America has one version of that, and largely that version can look like Brad Pitt or DiCaprio, etc.  It's this big brawny man with the beard that you know isn't in touch with his feminine side. Whereas as we see in K-pop a lot of what is considered attractive in Korea is embracing more of femininity, self-care, and beauty routines. Honestly, I think that there's not one answer, but I think that the cultures could really learn from each other on how we don't have to be so binary, that we all have masculine and feminine sides and that we can all embrace that.

Number two is racism, of course. Growing up as an Asian American, I certainly faced discrimination. I was surrounded by white kids who had a narrow definition of beauty, which can be even more challenging for Asian men in this country. They might be smaller or thinner and don't fit that standard. When I discovered K-pop, I was thrilled and thought, "Oh my God, could I be a pop star over there?" I imagined that if I had grown up in Asia, I could have been a K-pop idol. However, I soon realized that the K-pop industry also has a hierarchy of beauty standards and racial preferences. Koreans prioritize Korean faces, then Japanese, and maybe Chinese or Thai. In America, there's a joke that all Asians look the same, but in Korea, it's absurd to confuse a Chinese person with a Korean person.

When you start to look at it this way, you realize that racism is arbitrary. No matter where you are, being a minority often means facing discrimination. That's a key message I want to convey through this film: it's easy to exclude someone by saying, "You're not one of us." Whether in America or elsewhere, people are told to "go back to your country," and this cycle of exclusion continues across different regions and communities.

KW: What advice would you want to give to aspiring filmmakers, especially if they're Asian, a woman, or in general?

Sometimes, I'm not sure if I have the right advice for people, but here's what I'd say: If you're meant to do this, you won't be able to stop yourself. There's something inside you that drives you to keep creating, even when a voice—likely influenced by societal expectations—tells you to pursue something more stable or something others want you to do. If you can't stop creating, then keep doing it. Even if you need to have a second job or a full-time job, you'll continue creating on the side because you're an artist, and you can't help it.

Another important point is not to expect your art to pay for your life. Putting that burden on your art can lead to disappointment if it doesn't provide financial stability. Instead, find a way to support your art through other means. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book "Big Magic," she never expects her art to support her; instead, she always provides for her art. This perspective can help alleviate the pressure on your creative work and allow you to continue pursuing your passion without the weight of financial expectations.

How can we as fans support this project?

Follow our Instagram, definitely! A large part of this effort is about convincing studios and Hollywood that there's a dedicated fan base eager to see this film. Share it with your friends, too. The fans, especially the Japanese fans, have been incredibly helpful by tagging festivals they want us to attend. This has caught the attention of film festival programmers, who have reached out to us after being tagged by fans. For example, thanks to fan tags, we've received invitations to festivals in California, Colorado, and even Tokyo—which actually worked out, and that was amazing! So, please keep spreading the word online and let people know you want this movie to happen.

KW: Finally, are there any other upcoming projects that you’re excited about?

You can watch my miniseries The Blessing." I'm always creating, but as far as what people can consume right now, is "Seoul Switch" and "The Blessing." We're trying to get "Seoul Switch" made into a feature film so that's the big one that we're dedicated to.

Support "Seoul Switch"

From June 14 7:30PM CST  to June 16, 11:59 CST you can watch Seoul Switch on demand at the Bentonville Film Festival as part of the Shorts Block 3: Eclectic Mix curated by Geena Davis. Secure your ticket here! 


Follow on Instagram: instagram.com/seoulswitch

Request a screening in your city.

Follow Liann Kaye 

Website: liannkaye.com

Instagram:  instagram.com/liann.kaye 

X: x.com/liannkaye

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@liann.kaye


Special thanks to Liann Kaye for taking time our of her busy schedule for the interview. 

Ciera Reeves

Ciera is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of KpopWise. She has been a fan of Korean pop culture since 2005 and writing about it since 2009. Her bias groups are VIXX and OnlyOneOf. She is a 2nd-3rd generation K-pop fan, but she is actively keeping up with the current artists. twitter instagram

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